Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Four players. Four women. Four lives.
On this night, in front of the lights and cameras, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, and Rebekkah Brunson of the Minnesota Lynx stood up, quite literally, to the current social issues that had been making airwaves over the last couple months.
The issues at hand: gun violence and police brutality.
The Lynx players, draped in black shirts with the words: “Change Starts With Us- Accountability and Justice,” written across their chest, across their hearts.
And on the back, the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the two victims that were shot down by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St.Paul, Minneapolis, respectively.
With the shooting of Castile hitting close to home for the Lynx, the tipping point had been reached for the some of the players and teams of the WNBA.
And for Moore, who called the shootings a “senseless ambush,” the loss of another American life was her last trigger point.
“If we take this time to see that this is a human issue and speak out together, we can greatly decrease fear and create change. Tonight we will be wearing shirts to honor and mourn the losses of precious American citizens and to plead for change in all of us.”
For two-time Olympian, and with three WNBA titles under her belt, Moore thrives in the face of a challenge, the definition of a true competitor.
No one knows this better than Team USA Head Coach, Geno Auriemma, who seems to grin mischievously when asked about Moore’s aggressive nature.
“I look[ed] at the wall in our practice facility, and I see the names up there, and I’m like, damn, nobody was like Diana [Taurasi] and Maya [Moore],” Auriemma said in a NY Times article. “They were killers who would cut your heart out in a pickup game in July.”
This killer instinct has been Moore’s blueprint to success since she first picked up a basketball, leading the Eagles of Collins Hill High School to three Georgia state titles, and landing her under the watchful eye of Coach Auriemma at UCONN where he only irritated Moore’s itch to be the best.
Auriemma expanded upon Moore’s inability to look beyond herself. Or to Moore, her ability to always look within herself.
Auriemma: “It’s hard for her to look outside of herself,” stated in an article by the NY Times. “So she leads by example: When we need a rebound, I’ll get one. When we need a score, I’ll score. When we need a steal, I’ll get a steal.”
So by default of personality, it makes sense that Moore would be the catalyst to spark activism amongst other athletes both in the WNBA and other leagues against the racial profiling that has become an undeniable truth in today’s society.
She is an activist long before she donned that black shirt on July 9th. Moore, who is a supporter of Athletes In Action, is partnered with the END IT movement a passion project, a mission.
The END IT movement, is a coalition of leading organizations that look to bring awareness, prevention, rescue, and restoration to slavery all over the world.
The word slavery to the millennial mind is cloaked with a dark thicket of this preconceived notion that it is a word used in historical context, a phrase in time, a moment that is long gone.
The result of the power of societal rule.
In other words, the reality that the rules society governs by are interpretative ideals that are merely constructions of the mass public’s ideology on what is and what is not. A delusional reality, that is ever changing.
To the masses, slavery is a theme of the past, a “slap on the wrist,” move on topic. But the END IT movement exploits that there is modern-day slavery in such forms of bonded labor, forced labor, and human trafficking, which can no longer get overlooked because the word “slavery” is of the past.
No, only with awareness and action can change truly be made.
And to this, Moore is passionate, a conviction to simply be better.
And when Auriemma’s passionate squad arrived in Los Angeles, on the eve of their first Olympic exhibition game before they headed to Rio, they had just claimed their first victory in their efforts to create change on the issues close to all of them.
Because on that day, less than two weeks after Moore and the rest of the WNBA stood up against the social issues at hand, the league’s President, Lisa Borders, had rescinded the fines they had previously given the players and teams who had spoken out in regards to the recent violence.
For many, the league should have never punished it’s players for using their platform to create awareness.
“I think it was obviously the right thing to do,” said Coach Auriemma, “I was really proud of Tina [Charles] and my former players that stood up. They shouldn’t be anything but celebrated for standing up for what they believe in. That is what is great about this country, is that you have the opportunity to do that.”
Rather than dwell on a body divided, the league against the players, the players celebrated a relationship anew, and a sign of hope.
“It’s good when we can come together in whatever ways we can,” Moore said. “To try and promote working together, and how we use our platform to try and help others. It’s a positive direction that we are moving towards.”
The brash reality of all societal expectations is that they will remain in uniform, in a state of rest, unless acted upon by an external force.
And that external force is Moore, and other athletes that have been compelled to act, and to use their platform to promote awareness.
And with awareness comes understanding, and Olympian, Tina Charles, made sure to clarify any misconceptions on what their message is when they say: “Black Lives Matter.”
“When people say black lives matter,” explained Charles, “we aren't saying that not all lives matter, but we are saying that black lives matter too.”
A sense of community originates from organized activism, like the players of the WNBA have exemplified over the last month, and with that comes a bond.
And with the recent acts of violence spewing onto the national stage weeks before the world’s biggest sports spectacle kicks off in the Rio for this year’s summer games, the timing truly couldn't be more perfect for Moore, and Team USA, to continue creating awareness.
“For everyone to put effort into something and to see a change, it feels great,” said Charles. “Now we are able to unite collectively on the court and go after a gold medal.”
A team united, and a world watching, each victory secured in Rio on the road to gold provides credibility not only that these women can play good basketball, but are good people.
And as their victories become slightly more challenging with every passing game in Rio, with their lowest scoring game coming Friday against Canada, 81-51, these women understand the responsibility that comes with the platform they’ve been given.
“People who have been able to watch us in person, they feel what we feel when we play,” said Moore at the Olympic Press Conference, “just the joy, the fun, the passion, the energy, and every time we step on the court, we are getting more and more connected.”
Moore, and the rest of Team USA, know they have four more games to connect with the world, to disrupt inertia.